What’s up right now

No church this week. I’m trying to do a few things at once recently and things have gone towards hectic. Also I’m working on slimming and streamlining my posts without sacrificing too much content. I want to be posting these things by Wednesday of the week.

A few interesting items are coming up. A Christian Science church is next on my list and in a month or so I’ll visit a Greek Orthodox place. Stay tuned like your favorite guitar.

Two posts at once?

Yeah the church visit post is below this one. I wanted to post twice this week. I need to get my project thoughts in order again. Vacation has me distracted and I’m wanting to refocus.

So I missed some weeks. One was due to a shift change at work. One was vacation. And one was just a weird bad week. There are some kinks I’m working out with my time balancing act, but I’m hoping they won’t cause major damage to the project format. There is another project I’m taking on this summer- I will able to talk abut it more once it comes to fruition.

This project however, is one I’d like to still keep. Posting thoughts and book reviews are ok, but church visits drive me in different ways. For one thing, I always meet new interesting people. I often encounter new ideas about God and scripture. It makes me think, and I hope it makes them think too. Thinking is so good. And even better when you can compare new and old ideas. Maybe something will be revealed that you wouldn’t get to by thinking on your own.

I think it stimulates me to get a large variety of beliefs from the visits. And sometimes it is hard. They say your brain is a muscle and whatever metaphors go along with that. Sometimes new stuff makes my brain sore in a good way, but sometimes it gets pulled and I have to ice it. It’s still worth the risk though. I feel like I’m doing something no one expects. I really want to follow through with it and get to where I’m going.

Which is? I don’t really know yet. I didn’t intend to use the project to choose a church. That would mean I’d have to stop at a certain point and never explore all the places I’d set my mind to. But it’s possible I will see a place I just need to be and want to go back. It’s hard not to be wary though. My experience with OldChurch proves churches can change. Still, part of my project is being open and seeing what happens. So I guess that’s where I am right now: keep thinking, be open, and see what happens.

A birthday update (#12)

It’s my birthday week, and I thought I’d give a rundown of where the project is overall.

So you know my project takes me to various churches in the Albany area. In that same vein I had been thinking of learning a bit more about a group called the Bruderhof. They are a faith based group in the Anabaptist tradition who live together in various communities across the US and elsewhere. The biggest interesting thing about them is that they share money- they have a “common purse”. They have a website which explains some about their beliefs and lifestyle, but the very best way to learn more about them, their faith, and why they do what they do, is through a visit. That’s what I did. And it was a pretty nice way to spend a birthday. So check that off the list.

My summer is getting all packed with work and on-call and weddings and baptisms and vow renewals. I would like to try to post at the rate of once per week or more. Sometimes it will be twice in two weeks. At this time I have just one more scheduled visit to St Stephen’s for a talk. After that I can get in some more new churches. I am looking forward to a mass at St Michael’s. If you remember this was my first miss and should have been church #2. It pays to persevere I guess, since I finally just decided to show up on a Sunday when I saw some cars there. They start at 10am, I asked someone in the parking lot. I have heard their mass is in Latin so I’m excited to experience that at least once. And I’ll be getting to few new denominations including Presbyterian and Greek Orthodox.

Future Project Ideas

So this week I seem to have some kind of low grade infection; I’m insanely tired and have low appetite. Consequently, my day off yesterday was just me vegging in front of the TV trying to be interested in food. I wound up seeing a series of programs on NatGeo (hip new name for National Geographic) which were about religion. Specifically about isolationist type groups like the Amish and Hasidic Jews. We have no Amish near us, but we have a group called the Bruderhof. I hear they allow visitors sometimes and I’d like to visit them for my project. At some point in the future it would also be good to get an Amish view and later, after an extensive spectrum of Christianity, I want to check out Albany’s variety of Judaism.
For this week’s post, I’ve done another St Stephen’s visit. It will be coming as soon as I can organize my notes and copy them into blog form.

Next stop

This weekend I will be out of town doing something possibly blogworthy. Maybe I will post about it next week. Haven’t decided yet what my next stop after that will be. These last couple churches have several varieties of service and it’s derailing my plan a bit because now I’m not sure whether to revisit. Also, the 39 series is still really pulling me in and I wonder if I should take a Sunday or two and just do the 39 and go home after. It might be a nice break to do that. Especially if I have to work the Sunday afternoon. Well, I’ll let you know.

Next stop

This weekend I will be out of town doing something possibly blogworthy. Maybe I will post about it next week. Haven’t decided yet what my next stop after that will be. These last couple churches have several varieties of service and it’s derailing my plan a bit because now I’m not sure whether to revisit. Also, the 39 series is still really pulling me in and I wonder if I should take a Sunday or two and just do the 39 and go home after. It might be a nice break to do that. Especially if I have to work the Sunday afternoon. Well, I’ll let you know.

Thoughts up to the moment

I find myself wanting to reflect on where I am with this project overall. I don’t want change it, but I’m looking for something cohesive about the last seven weeks that hold them together in some way. Some of my observations so far may be a good start:

Assumptions are powerful.

Part of showing up to a church for the first time means people make assumptions about you. Who are you? What are you doing there? What do you want? And I’m not saying assumptions are all bad. We make assumptions all the time. Someone has long, styled hair, a curvy body and wears lipstick, you assume they are a female. We rarely assume gender incorrectly and it would be difficult to interact with someone if we didn’t make a few assumptions about them. Living in an area populated by English speakers, I wouldn’t start talking in Spanish to someone new I’ve just met. I assume they speak English. So far I’m correct. As far as my project goes, there have clearly been assumptions made each and every Sunday I’ve shown up at a new place. At the very first church I visited I was told (as a selling point) that the church has “plenty of single young ladies”. I have to believe this was because they assumed I was a single young lady and wanted peers. Well, I look young and showed up alone. It’s not like I’m offended, it’s just interesting to note. Another big assumption made several times over is regarding the nature of my search. What do I want in showing up at a new church? The assumption: I want a spiritual home. Again, it’s not like I’m offended. Most people going to a church for the first time want this. In a way, I’m not reviewing churches at all. I’m reviewing how churches treat newcomers. I have welcome packets from nearly all the churches I visited. They are all oriented towards new members. Many of them use the word ‘home’ or ‘welcome’. When I go up to the pastor after service they (usually) try to assume intelligently and not guess in the dark, often asking my religious background. I tell them I was raised Catholic. The natural guess from that alone is that I am looking for a new version of Christianity. Many pastors follow up by asking what I am looking for. Some places this also happens with others in the congregation. I like the questions, because they help minimize assumptions. I usually say I’m doing a personal project to visit area Christian churches and learn. Once I actually said learn things and teach things. Which brings me to my next observation,

I like churches that assume I’m smart

This is not to say I want a church to recognize that I’m more intelligent than the average person. Of course I think that I am (don’t we all?) but comparison with others is not what I’m talking about. I really want a church that recognizes the people inside as smart enough to know things regarding God and Jesus. This is a thing I definitely dislike about my Catholic heritage. The way the church is structured is very formal. There are various ranks starting at the parishioner and ending with the Pope. Each is supposed to have more knowledge and answers, making the people stupid, and the Pope infallible. A woman who works at a Catholic church I used to attend once told me that as a child she was not allowed to read the bible. The Catholic church at the time discouraged it; the idea being that without guidance of a priest or other clergy member, the casual bible reader might misinterpret it to their own detriment. I don’t know how far this really went. I read the bible as a child, at least a junior version. And I had the real thing available to me since middle school. But that’s getting off track. My point is, some churches act like their members are stupid. I like it best when I churches act like their members are smart. This, as most of my observations, is hard to judge based on a single visit. There are some good clues though. I like getting encouragement to read the bible myself. I really appreciate a sermon that goes into some depth historically. And I love it when those I talk to seem to view my project in a positive light. Then I know they trust me to be able get it right on my own, rather than needing to return to their church in order to escape damnation. I guess the biggest plus to having a church assume you are smart is the aspect of learning vs teaching. I think it’s maybe possible that I could have something to teach others who are different from me. I want this project to not only be me learning new things, but teaching others new things. I may be just dreaming about this last part, but it’s my wish that others can be open to listening to what I say, as I’m open to listening to what they say.

Where does this leave me?

Well, I’m not sure. My project continues hopefully next Sunday when I am feeling in normal health. I’m ready to hit a couple of churches more in my original tradition. I’ve rarely done a Catholic church as a stand-alone, so that will be something to note for sure. I definitely will have a better idea what to expect there than churches I’ve never heard of before. I will try not to get too many expectations in my head though, and just let the experience be what it is. I am thinking of contacting several churches I’ve been to and sharing the blog address. It might benefit them to have an account of how I felt as a visitor, especially if there were negatives. A friend of mine recently pointed out to me that criticism doesn’t have to be automatically negative. For one thing, it can help you improve. And it could be seen as a sign of respect. If you really didn’t care about a thing, you wouldn’t be bothering. I remember saying something very similar to a friend of mine in a leadership position. He was directing me and I decided to be bold enough to tell him what he was doing wrong, instead of just assuming he had somehow turned into a jerk. I said, “You are my friend and I’m letting you know because of that reason. Otherwise I would just ignore you. I don’t want to do that.” I cared for this person and wanted him to be better. And I care about Christian groups in my area. If I didn’t, I would just ignore them. I don’t want to do that.

A Fun Day- Thoughts 1/28/12

Just an update- I figured I should do something extra what with the week off from the project. Several churches on the list I am still compiling are mysterious to me. They seem to have no website and I can’t confirm if they are active or what time service might be. I did a couple of drive-bys to check for signage. First I stopped at the an LDS (Latter Day Saints) place on Madison avenue. I met some Mormons. I asked about what time they meet on Sunday and do they meet on Sundays? I’m still iffy about terminology for some of the denominations. I mean, you don’t want to call a service a mass, or a temple a chapel, right? They gave me a card and encouraged me to learn about LDS and come on Sunday. They seemed a bit perplexed by what I wanted. I’m thinking I may run into a lot of assumptions about who I am, perhaps assuming I am ‘lost’ ‘confused’ or already one of the group. If I don’t really fit into those categories I am possibly something of a mystery.

The second drive-by was a place that looked deserted and had no sign except the name “Emmanuel Christian Center”. After getting home and googling it again, I found a website explaining that it is a retreat center which can be rented for events. So not actually a church. I’m beginning to see the yellow pages as rife with errors. For instance: they refer to the LDS albany address as the “Church of Jesus Chris”. Yeah. Ok.

first miss, St Michael’s Chapel

My first miss of the year is called St Michael’s Chapel. I was unable to discover whether they have Mass there or not, there was not a webpage which was clearly up-to-date. No times were listed on the door or anywhere near the Chapel. I was rather interested because some of my sources make it sound like Mass is done in Latin. So for the moment this one is a miss. If anyone knows for sure what the story is, I’d appreciate the info.